A History of Prague, Part 11, A New Era

In November, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the Velvet Revolution swept Prague into another new era. In 1993, after the division of Czechoslovakia, the city became the capital of the new Czech Republic, comprising the regions of Prague and Central Bohemia.

Pristine building in Prague's Old Town Square
Pristine building in Prague’s Old Town Square

In this new era, Prague’s architecture began to blossom again. Historic buildings were restored and a programme of meticulous and continuous maintenance began. The city’s conversion to electric heating ensured Prague a future free from the devastations of coal pollution. The old town became a Unesco heritage listed site, preserved forever for posterity. World-famous architects, too, like Frank O. Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Eva Jiricna, and Ricardo Bofill added modern masterpieces to the cityscape.

By the turn of the century, Prague had fulfilled the promise of the first Premyslid Princess Libuse “It will honoured, favoured with great repute and praise will be bestowed upon it by the entire world”

A History of Prague, Part 10, Communist Prague

After World War II, Prague became the capital of Czechoslovakia once again but it was very different city from pre-war Prague.

Sculpures on a Prague building
Sculptures  on a Prague building

The Jewish community had been decimated. The ethnic German population had all but vanished. Many had fled with fall of Nazism. Unknown numbers and been killed in local massacres. The rest had been deported. A strong pro-Russian sentiment prevailed. Although the Red Army had withdrawn soon after the war, Czechoslovakia felt deeply indebted to its liberators and the country remained under strong Soviet influence. In February, 1948, Prague became the centre of a Communist coup.

Following the coup and the establishment of the totalitarian Communist regime, new settlers surged into Prague. Huge, utilitarian residential complexes sprang up at the edges of the city, encircling the beautiful Romanesque, renaissance and baroque architecture of the ancient towns like dark, grim sentinels. The coal burnt to fuel the swelling metropolis and its industries corroded and blackened the facades of the old buildings and turned Prague into a dark, forbidding place. Nothing was done to arrest the pollution of the city and efforts to repair and maintain its buildings were slow and ineffectual.

Discontent festered in Czechoslovakia, particularly among the intellectual community of Prague. The 4th Czechoslovakian Writers’ Congress in 1967 gave voice to their dissatisfaction. This led to Prague Spring, when Alexander Dubcek, the Secretary of the Communist Party, announced a new phase in the life of Czechoslovakia; the democratic reform of its institutions and the beginning of “socialism with a human face”.

In August 1968 Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslavakia and crushed the movement. A period of communist normalisation followed. Prague stagnated and as magnificent, historic architecture crumbled from pollution and neglect, cheap, shoddy, modern buildings invaded the cityscape.